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Who is responsible for gender diversity in the industry?

17 June 2015
Who is responsible for gender diversity in the industry?

Traditional research doesn’t show the true extent of female power in the household, according to leading women in the media and marketing industry

Speaking at Dow Jones’ Women in Media 2015 event in London, Sarah Threadgould, global head of marketing communications and campaign strategy at HSBC, was joined by Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief customer officer and global managing director at Dow Jones, and Belinda Rowe, global managing partner and UK chairman at ZenithOptimedia.

The panel gathered to discuss how women are portrayed in the industry, and what these key businesses are doing to achieve true diversity in the workplace.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about audiences and who to talk to, specifically to influence brand purchase,” said Vanneck-Smith. “I think more and more research is showing that women are, in fact, huge influencers in the household.”

Threadgould argued that many women know that they aren’t being accurately represented in the marketplace: “Women influence cars, finances, holidays, moving house – they are obviously exerting a high influence.

“I tend to see advertising portraying men with cars and holidays, and women are being portrayed as worrying about their teeth and legs and clothes.”

Authenticity is key

Although women have traditionally been portrayed as taking a back seat in making important household decisions, this is beginning to change and brands are starting to understand that.

Citing Procter & Gamble, Vanneck-Smith explained the FMCG giant is tapping into the emotion behind the purchasing decision with its ‘Thank You Mom’ commercial for the Olympics and the recent ‘#LikeAGirl’ campaign for feminine hygiene brand Always.


“We all have it in ourselves and our jobs to change the way [women] are represented,” she added.

Moving on to creating relationships with customers, Vanneck-Smith said that authenticity is the key: “There are many brands that I don’t want to have a relationship with – like [UK utilities company] Thames Water – I want them to know me but I don’t want them to start reaching out to me via social media, I just want water out of the taps.

“I’ve worked on many brands where it’s authentic to build a relationship – but it comes back to knowing your customer, whether you have a relationship with your customer depends on the brand.

“It’s about balance – insight and instincts are just as important as each other. Every business will have a different customer equation.”

The right social platform

Discussing success in social media, Rowe said that platforms like Twitter are not necessarily as important to brands as they used to be.

“Having content that’s really authentic to the topic of audience you’re talking to is important. A lot of the tweets I follow are content that’s relevant and links to real articles. You have to be authentic and have great purpose to attract an audience to you.”

Vanneck-Smith added: “Twitter always felt like a speaker’s corner on crack. It was a place to share opinions – now it’s an alerts and notifications platform. In essence, for me, it’s not essentially social.”

The advice to marketing teams has always been to build their Facebook pages, but this isn’t the case anymore. A lot of these platforms are changing quickly and it’s hard for brands to keep up.

“We don’t do ourselves any favours as brands if we don’t have a clear purpose and understanding of who we are trying to target,” said Rowe.

“Audiences find out very quickly when brands aren’t being authentic and they don’t appreciate it. You need to think about what’s the right platform for you audience.”

Confidence is key

When the discussion was opened to the floor, the panel was asked what they themselves and their businesses are doing to encourage gender diversity in the workplace.

“We have a graduate programme at the beginning of each year – for a long time we’ve been attracting graduates with a diverse range of skills,” said Rowe.

“Women are coming in from all walks of life, whether it be data, tech etc. Data teams are traditionally very male but there’s been a shift. It’s still a bit too male but it’s shifting and changing at ZenithOptimedia. We generally have a 50/50 balance.”

We are continually fed articles and discussions around bringing more women into senior positions in the media industry, but who is responsible for making that happen? Vanneck-Smith was clear that she had no regrets about sitting on the fence with this question.

“My heart says that [women] are all brilliant and that we should achieve gender equality through our own strength. But my head says that when you look at the data, maybe we need to be more radical in order to boost the figures.

“I feel uncomfortable about quotas – we need to earn the place in the boardroom.”

All three female leaders agreed that women need to be encouraged to have confidence in order to make it to the top.

“Bring empathy to the room, be strategic, and be brave,” concluded Vanneck-Smith.

Laura Bracher, London

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